BetteBack April 4, 1997: “That Old Feeling’ is a rose of a film

San Fran Examiner
April 4, 1997


SOMEWHERE BETWEEN the Divine Miss M and Norma Desmond lies Lilly, the haughty and naughty actress played with exuberance by Bette Midler in “That Old Feeling.”

For the last 14 years, she’s been married to Alan (David Rasche), the marriage counselor who failed to patch up her unraveling 12-year union to Dan (Dennis Farina), a successful novelist, who has since written a book in which an actress is stabbed 27 times.
Dan, too, is remarried, stolen away, according to Lilly, by Rowena (Gail O’Grady), a surgically improved interior decorator. Dan and Lilly’s daughter, Molly (Paula Marshall), is understandably reluctant to invite both of her explosive parents to her wedding to the arrow-straight Republican congressional candidate Keith (Jamie Denton).

Dan and Lilly don’t manage to maintain their civility for more than a few minutes. When their arguing escalates, Molly throws them out into the parking lot and warns them not to come back until they’ve resolved their differences.

They go a little further than Molly anticipated. Fighting ignites passion, and passion leads to a shock absorber-testing session in Dan’s car. What follows in the often clever Leslie Dixon script (she wrote

“Outrageous Fortune” ) is a melding of elements of plot from Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” and Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.” In the latter, the ex-spouses find themselves in adjacent hotel rooms, both on honeymoons with other people. They run away and leave their poor new partners behind. In this movie, the exes run away and ruin their daughter’s honeymoon.

Dixon has concocted a lively premise that often delivers big, punchy funny moments. And in the masterful hands of director Carl Reiner ( “All of Me” and “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” ), even the weaker material works well enough to keep us going until the next big laugh.

Farina and Midler are an interesting match. Farina, who played the funny but menacing heavy in “Get Shorty,” gives Dan a bear-like stolidity, making him the perfect foil for the tiny Midler’s scathing Lilly.

Marshall has strong moments in the role of Molly. Mostly she is a hand-wringing disapprover, lamenting her parents’ inappropriate behavior, cringing at her new husband’s gracelessness under pressure and falling for the scruffy, Lilly-chasing paparazzi named Joey (Danny Nucci). He comes in handy for finding Lilly when she disappears with Dan for a sumptuous assignation at a posh New York hotel.

Good one-liners abound. “I’m not neurotic,” Lilly says, “I’m just a bitch.” And rehashing the past with Dan, Lilly screams, “Faithful? You were faithful like a Kennedy is faithful!”

Dixon goes a little too freely for cheap laughs by turning Alan into a New Age cliche-spouting nudge who likes to talk every problem into the ground while Lilly’s eyes cross in boredom. And Rowena seems unfairly relegated to the role of unfeeling harpy, less upset about losing Dan than about losing the social standing her marriage to him assured.

Like Midler’s last hit, “First Wives Club,” “That Old Feeling” is a crowd pleaser that vindicates the second-class spot occupied by middle-aged women in the social stratum. What could be more fun than stealing an ex-husband back from the younger woman who stole him first? But this is not as feministically triumphant as it initially sounds. After all, in the end it’s just a couple of women cat-fighting over a man, not much of an improvement on Clare Boothe’s “The Women.”

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